Let’s all agree that many global organizations really could improve. But Donald Trump’s public attack on the World Health Organization diminishes America’s standing as a global leader.
It is unconscionable that China denied – initially – that human-to-human transmission was taking place and that the WHO swallowed it.
It is unconscionable that China refused – initially – to share the virus that causes Covid-19 with vaccine developers around the world and that the WHO did not press the point.
But there are ways to help improve global organizations without wailing about, to all appearances searching for a scapegoat, when your own shortcomings are so visible.
In February the WHO was already shipping tests. The US refused to accept shipment of those tests and then bungled and then bungled again in setting up its own tests.
Previous presidents knew instinctively, or at least upon consultation knew, that public criticisms of global community endeavors rarely work and could boomerang.
But Trump has no clue.
Did the US secretary of state or the national security adviser tell the president he was making a mistake? Or is the president simply talking without thinking or consulting?
Foreign ministries around the world are asking that very question.
We should not be surprised if most ministries are simply writing off Trump’s comments: He is a loose cannon, best to disregard, ignore.
So, other than that, why does Trump’s attack against the WHO diminish the US and its soft power?
Let’s go back to 1948 when the World Health Organization was established.
Public health infrastructure in most countries was demolished by World War II. Soldiers were returning and refugees were coming from unknown parts, carrying unfamiliar diseases.
That was when a group of 61 countries called for a permanent body to promote global health, an idea that dates to the 1892 Venice conference on cholera. Peace had finally come, nations were being created and a global community was coming together.
The WHO’s first-year budget of US$5 million was paid for mostly by the United States. Hardened by the Depression and World War II, Americans knew that was the right thing to do. It was just another Marshall Plan.
Stalin was suspicious of it. Mao envied it from afar. Churchill, out of office, chewed on it. Gandhi and Yoshida praised it. Science magazine called the founding “an historic day.”
In the 1950s, you needed two things to cross a border: a passport and a yellow WHO booklet with vaccination records.
The WHO helped to eradicate smallpox, polio and countless other diseases. It supports health-care workers putting their lives in danger in many countries.
Today people in New York and Milan and Nagasaki clap their hands in gratitude to health-care workers. But in places where science remains a mystery, workers in WHO hazmat are literally getting stoned.
And here we have an American president throwing verbal stones and threatening to cut off funding to the organization that supports health-care workers around the world.
Former longtime Tokyo-based Merrill Lynch analyst Matt Aizawa currently watches world news and markets, and continues to crunch numbers, beside a lake north of the city.